Into the Heart of TERFness

Victoria Strake
6 min readDec 23, 2019

TERFs hatred of trans women isn’t just academic, it’s something more sinister.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Do you know what a TERF is? I’m going to assume that since you clicked on this article, you probably do, but just in case: ‘TERF’ stands for ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’(1). If you asked a TERF what they believe, they’d probably tell you (if they were feeling patient enough to explain) any one of the following things: that trans women(2) (which they refer to as trans-identified males or TIMs, similarity to ‘Tim’ intentional) are men who are sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as women; that trans women are men who only wish to pretend to be women to invade women’s spaces(3); that trans women perform exaggerated stereotypes of femininity as a kind of fetish(4); and that trans men (which they refer to as trans-identified females or TIFs) either don’t exist, or are confused butch lesbians, or are traitors to the female gender.

As you may have guessed from the name, TERFs are the sad stepchildren of second-wave feminism(5). At some point, however, TERFs decided the biggest threat to justice in our time wasn’t the patriarchal oppression we’re all steeped in, but a trans woman trying to pee near us. Why? I honestly have no idea. TERF ideology predates me and probably you, too, since it first reared its ugly head all the way back in the 1970s when lesbian groups began voting to exclude trans women. I can tell you, however, that the term ‘TERF’ first appeared in 2008, in a series of blog posts by freelance writer Viv Smythe(6). Since then, it has grown to the point that some TERFs themselves disavow the label, preferring instead to be known as “Gender Critical” or GC. In fact, this label has gotten such cachet that it lends itself to the name of Reddit’s largest TERF subreddit, which bills itself as “Reddit’s most active feminist community”. By what metric, I wonder.

Having read the previous two paragraphs, you may glean two things: 1. That I have spent a lot a lot a lot of time reading TERF rhetoric on the internet, and 2. That the typical TERF’s understanding of womanhood (both trans and cis) is dangerously warped. And you’d be correct on both counts, but be careful, because there’s something far more sinister afoot. TERFs don’t just misunderstand womanhood. They misunderstand themselves. After having subjected myself to an unreal…

Victoria Strake

Essayist, former scientist, trans woman. Striving for actionable methods of peaceful revolution — relationships, community, mutual aid, subsistence, science.